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George Orwell wrote that "We have now sunk to a depth at which re-statement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men." This book is an attempt at re-statement.
    J. Budziszewski, Introduction to What We Can't Not Know

I recall several years ago, during his Supreme Court nomination hearing, Clarence Thomas was closely questioned about whether he subscribed to Natural Law doctrine. Having just finished law school, I was surprised not to be more familiar with what the Senators doing the questioning clearly thought was a terribly dangerous theory. Even more astonishing was that Al Gore voted against Mr. Thomas on the basis of the judge's belief in Natural Law [-ESSAY: When Joe Loved Clarence (Counter Punch, October 16, 2000)]. Imagine then my astonishment when I realized that all they were worrying about was the notion, seemingly obvious to most Americans, that the justness of our laws ultimately depends for its foundation on the universal moral code that God, in the lovely formulation of Paul, has written in our hearts. In this book, J. Budziszewski presents--in admirably clear, concise, and convincing fashion--an invaluable guide to understanding the Natural Law and the case for its enduring truth:
[T]here are some moral truths that we all really know--truths which a normal human being is unable not to know. They are a universal possession, an emblem ofl mind, an heirloom of the family of man. That doesn't mean that we know them with unfailing perfect clarity, or that we have reasoned out their remotest implications: we don't, and we haven't. Nor does it mean that we never pretend not to know them even though we do, and we do. It doesn't even mean that we are born knowing them, that we never get mixed up about them, or that we assent to them just as readily whether they are taught to us or not. That can't even be said of "two plus two is four." Yet our common moral knowledge is as real as arithmetic, and probably just as plain. Paradoxically, maddeningly, we appeal to it even to justify wrongdoing; rationalization is the homage paid by sin to guilty knowledge.
As important, he demonstrates that this truth is and has been under attack for some time and the dire consequences of abandoning it as the basis for morality.

Opponents of Natural Law, and of Judeo-Christian morality generally, are wont to portray the Bible as so self-contradictory or out-dated that it can provide no reliable guidance on contemporary issues, but Mr. Budziszewski traces the Natural Law to just two sources about which there is fairly little disagreement--the Ten Commandments, presented here (from Deuteronomy) as:
(1) I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

(2) You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

(3) Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son or your daughter, or your manservant or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

(4) Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the LORD your God gives you.

(5) You shall not kill.

(6) Neither shall you commit adultery.

(7) Neither shall you steal.

(8) Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.

(9) Neither shall you covet your neighbor's wife.

(10) And you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's.
...and the restatement of these commandments, the Summary of the Law by Thomas Aquinas (a portion of which is referred to as The Golden Rule):
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.
And he proceeds to discuss their timelessness and the ways that they can and do still offer very nearly the only moral guidance we have.

There's much that's useful in all the following discussion, but perhaps one example will suffice as demonstration. Mr. Budziszewski discusses the ways in which our consciences plaque us when we trangress what we know to be Natural Law, and he refers to the different ways as the five Furies: Remorse; Confession; Atonement; Reconciliation; and Justification. There are two current political/moral arguments where we see Reconciliation at work. As Mr. Budziszewski says: "The graver the transgression, the wider the gulf between the transgressor and humane society--and the deeper the sense of significance with which the substitute bonds must be imbued." Consider euthanasia and homosexuality, issue's where advocates do not merely demand that such pathologies be allowed by society but that they receive an official imprimatur--assistance by physicians and the legal system in the case of euthanasia; anti-discrimination law and marriage in the case of homosexuality. It is precisely because they have so radically alienated themselves from what they and the rest of us know to be right that they demand that we join them:
They want to belong; they want to belong as they are; there can be only one solution. Society must reconcile with them. The shape of human life must be transformed.
Folk often wonder why it should be that people who engage in such radically anti-social behaviors should then seek access to such conservative means and institutions. The answer, of course, is that they know themselves to be in the wrong and must implicate the rest of us, lest we be a standing rebuke to them. They hope for our acclamation and approbation to drown out the murmur of disapproval from their tell-tale hearts.

Between the clear and convincing explanation of the sources and meanings of the Natural Law itself and sharp insights like these, into how we seek to avoid the import of the Law, Mr. Budziszewski's book serves as an invaluable introduction. If nothing else, with several divisive Supreme Court nominations coming in the not too distant future, this guide will tell you what's really going on when Democratic Senators try making conservatives seem like cult members for basically believing in God's commandments to Man. It turns out that it's a cult a fair number of us belong to and upon which our Republic and our legal system are premised.


Grade: (A)


See also:

J. Budziszewski Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: J. Budziszewski
-Senior Fellow J. Budziszewski (Discovery Institute)
    -ARCHIVES: Ask Theophilus (J. Budziszewski,
-ESSAY: How Not to Find Out about Happiness (J. Budziszewski|May. 1st, 2022, Public Discourse)
    -ESSAY: The Revenge of Conscience (J. Budziszewski, June 1998, First Things)
    -ESSAY: The Roots of Law (J. Budziszewski, Sep/Oct 2001, Religion & Liberty)
    -ESSAY: The Illusion of Moral Neutrality (J. Budziszewski, August/September 1993, First Things)
    -ESSAY: The Problem With Liberalism (J. Budziszewski, March 1996, First Things)
    -ESSAY: The Problem with Conservatism (J. Budziszewski, April 1996, First Things)
    -ESSAY: The Problem with Communitarianism (J. Budziszewski, March 1995, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Politics of Virtue - Government of Knaves (J. Budziszewski, June/July 1994, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Can War Be Justified (J. Budziszewski, April 29, 1999,
    -ESSAY: Not What You Think: Part 1 of 2 (J. Budziszewski, Feb 20, 2003,
    -ESSAY: The Vixenette (J. Budziszewski, Jan 23, 2003,
    -ESSAY: The Big Story (J. Budziszewski, Dec 19, 2002,
    -ESSAY: Feeling Moral (J. Budziszewski, November 2002, First Things)
    -ESSAY: The Second Tablet Project (J. Budziszewski, June/July 2002, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Preliminary Thoughts on Irrevocable Punishment (J. Budziszewski, November 8, 2001, Sightings)
    -SHORT STORY: Pilgrim Meets Compassionate (J. Budziszewski, November 2001, First Things)
    -LECTURE: Escape from Nihilism: A Christian scholar chronicles his journey from faith to nonreason, and back (J. Budziszewski, Leadership U)
    -LECTURE: The Academic Witness: Research and Scholarship "As Unto the Lord" (Jay Budziszewski, Leadership U)
    -BOOK SITE: WRITTEN ON THE HEART: The Case for Natural Law by J. Budziszewski (Inter Varsity Press)
-INTERVIEW: The Natural Law Is What We Naturally Know: an interview with J. Budziszewski (Religion & Liberty, May/June 2003)
    -INTERVIEW: J. Budziszewski Knows That You Know What You Know: Even though you may not know it yourself. (The Dick Staub Interview, 06/24/2003, Christianity Today)
    -ESSAY: Can we be good without God? (Chuck Colson, April 26, 2003, Townhall)
    -ARCHIVES: "Budziszewski" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES: "Budziszewski" (Mag Portal)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Natural Born Lawyers: Review of eight recent books on Natural Law (J. Budziszewski, December 20, 1999, The Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW: of Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch (J. Budziszewski, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of Toleration, Identity, and Difference. Edited by John Horton and Susan Mendus (J. Budziszewski, American Political Science Review)
    -REVIEW: of Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century. By Jonathan Glover (J. Budziszewski, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of For Fidelity: How Intimacy and Commitment Enrich Our Lives. By Catherine M. Wallace (J. Budziszewski, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of How Now Shall We Live? By Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey (J. Budziszewski, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of Sanctify Them in the Truth: Holiness Exemplified. By Stanley Hauerwas (J. Budziszewski, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of (J. Budziszewski, )
    -REVIEW: of (J. Budziszewski, )
    -PROFILE: Blowing Away Smoke Screens: The Scholarship of J. Budziszewski (BreakPoint with Chuck Colson)
    -REVIEW: of What We CanĂ•t Not Know: A Guide by J. Budziszewski (John M. Grondelski, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of THE REVENGE OF CONSCIENCE: POLITICS AND THE FALL OF MAN by J. Budziszewski (Joseph W. Koterski, S.J., Homiletic & Pastoral Review)
    -REVIEW: of Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law. by J. Budziszewski (Dean C. Curry, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law. by J. Budziszewski (Phillip E. Johnson, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of Written on the Heart (Rev. J. Michael Beers. March and April 1998, Religion & Liberty)
    -REVIEW: of But How to Stay Christian in College by J. Budziszewski (James V. Schall, S.J., Homiletic & Pastoral Review)
    -REVIEW: of But How to Stay Christian in College by J. Budziszewski (Charles Colson, Breakpoint)

Book-related and General Links:

    -Natural Law (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
    -ARCHIVES: Readings in Natural Law (The Academic Research Center of the Acton Institute)
    -The Natural Law/Natural Right Page
    -INTERVIEW: Faith and the God of the Philosophers: Ralph McInerny on the Importance of Natural Theology (Ralph McInerny, 2003-05-19, ZENIT: The World Seen From Rome)
    -LECTURE: A Sense of the Transcendent: This article was first given as a talk to the National Press Club, Canberra, Australia, March 29, 1995 (Vaclav Havel, Fall 1997, CrossCurrents)
    -ESSAY: Speaking Out: The Supreme Court Rejects Natural Law: It's now up to the churches to guard what is "graven on the heart of man." (Uwe Siemon-Netto, UPI | posted 07/01/2003, Christianity Today)
    -ESSAY: Foundational crises: The Importance of Not Thinking Too Much (John Derbyshire, August 1, 2003, National Review)
    -ESSAY: No One is Really a Moral Skeptic (Richard A. Epstein, Religion & Liberty)
    -ESSAY: Why Gods Should Matter in Social Science (RODNEY STARK, Chronicle of Higher Education)
    Evolution and Ethics: E. O. Wilson has more in common with Thomas Aquinas than he realizes. (Larry Arnhart, Nov/Dec 1999, Books & Culture)

    -The Thomas Hearings (September 10-October 15, 1991)
    -ESSAY: Lest We Forget: Clarence Thomas and the Meaning of the Constitution (Jeffrey Sikkenga, December 1998, On Principle)
    -LECTURE: Introduction of Justice Clarence Thomas (Larry Arn, February 9, 1999, Claremont Institute)
    -REVIEW: of First Principles: The Jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas by Scott Douglas Gerber (Lucas E. Morel, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Natural Law and the Foundations of Government: Thomas Nomination Stirs Old and New Controversies (James W. Skillen, November 1991, Public Justice Reporter)
    -ESSAY: When Joe Loved Clarence (Counter Punch, October 16, 2000)
    -ESSAY: Being Fair to Justice Thomas (Jurist, February 1999)
    -ESSAY: Judges, Democracy And Natural Law (MICHAEL KINSLEY, Aug. 12, 1991 , TIME)

    -Edward S. Corwin Papers (Princeton University Library)